If all goes according to the city's plans, a Hummingbird Center for homeless people with behavioral health issues will open on the current 1156 Valencia St. Salvation Army site by April.

More than 100 people packed a community meeting at the Salvation Army site at 22nd and Valencia streets Thursday night to discuss converting the nonprofit space into a Hummingbird neighborhood-based behavioral health shelter and drop-in center for the homeless.  

Many voiced their support for the Hummingbird Place respite program, including Frankie Duhl, a 27-year neighborhood resident. “I run a family childcare for 1- and 2-year-olds right behind the building,” he said. “My wife and I are thrilled that this program is going to be here. This is one of hopefully many more.” 

For others, the issue hit close to home. “I’m someone who had mental health challenges since the age of 13. If there was a place like this that existed, I would have been able to get it together a lot earlier,” said C.W. Johnson, who was homeless in the Mission District and is now outreach coordinator of the Mental Health Association. “Homeless people are already in your neighborhood. If people are going to be here, why not help them?” 

The 1156 Valencia St. shelter would have 30 nighttime beds and serve up to an additional 25 drop-in clients with behavioral health issues during the day. Like Navigation Centers, Hummingbird Place is slated to be a low-barrier shelter, allowing for pets, belongings, and partners. 

Hummingbird Place is modeled off of the Hummingbird Navigation Center at San Francisco General Hospital, which similarly provides behavioral health support and shelter for its residents. The proposed center on Valencia would focus on serving individuals with behavioral health issues, and be staffed by mental health workers, a nurse practitioner with on-site clinic hours, and on-call access to behavioral health clinicians. 

The Positive Resources Center, a San Francisco-based behavioral health service provider that already runs multiple services across the city, would oversee the site. 

Attendees at Thursday night’s meeting. Photo by Sam Lew.

While some attendees said they supported homeless services, they disagreed with the proposed 1156 Valencia St. location, which sits at the border between Districts 8 and 9. Proponents countered that the site is desirable due to its size, affordability, and the willing partnership of the Salvation Army — and could serve the hundreds of homeless individuals in the vicinity. 

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said he had been actively looking for sites throughout the Castro, but conceded that it has been challenging to find a location large enough; he also emphasized that he hoped other behavioral health programs like Hummingbird would be implemented throughout the city. 

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The proposed site would have 24-hour on-site security guards tasked with walking around the perimeter of the building every 90 minutes. These guards, attendees were told, would be unarmed and trained in compassionate de-escalation. For neighborhood concerns, there would be a staffed phone line available at all hours. 

Some neighbors remained wary. “I don’t feel like if I call the 24/7 number something is going to happen,” said Mission District resident Kevin Clark. “I have two young kids and I’m just a little scared, though I know this fear may be unfounded.” 

For Victor Gresser, who has had a mental illness since he was a child and has been a member of the San Francisco Mental Health Board, the conflation between mental health conditions, homelessness, and criminality is unfounded. “People like me are far more likely to be victims of crimes than to do the crimes.” 

Applause erupted during during the lengthy meeting for speakers both concerned with the proposed shelter site and in favor of it. But the sorest point among attendees may have been the lack of community outreach conducted leading up to the meeting. Although Positive Resources Center partnered with the city  to mail out 200 notices, many felt that this was insufficient. 

Thursday’s meeting marked the second community gathering prior to the San Francisco Health Commission’s scheduled March 3 vote on whether to approve the shelter. Assuming passage, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee will vote to accept the lease on March 4. According to the Mayor’s Office, the goal is to open Hummingbird Place by April. 

Six months into the program, a community meeting would be held to discuss neighborhood questions and concerns. 

Chris Block, a resident of the neighborhood for almost 30 years, says of the proposed shelter, “I’m raising an 8-year-old boy. We walk the dog around here, and we’ll still do that. In fact, we’ll do it more often now.” 

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